Anyone who has heard of cervical cancer knows just how deadly a disease it is. Cervical cancer is the second most common killer among females in the Asia-Pacific region. Around 6,000 Filipinas get cervical cancer, and almost half of them die each year. Fortunately there are options for women to have themselves checked early on in order to diagnose the disease: the pap smear and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test.
A pap smear involves scraping the cervix in order to get cell samples for the early detection of precancerous cervical lesions. Since almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, a sexually-transmitted disease, HPV tests, on the other hand, involve taking a sample from the cervix and checking for the virus’ DNA.
The question, though, is which test should a woman get in order to prevent cancer, and when? Which test is better?
Dr. Chris Meijer, a pathology professor from the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, studied almost 45,000 women aged 29 to 56 who were divided into two groups. One group had just a traditional pap smear while the other group had both a pap smear and an HPV test. After five years, all the women took both tests.
Meijer and his colleagues found out that the women who undertook both the pap smear and the HPV test showed more potentially cancerous lesions, 25 percent more than those who undertook just the pap smear. After five years, these women who had the dual screen developed fewer cancers.
Both groups had just about the same number of cancerous lesions, implying that HPV testing alone isn’t really a reliable method alone to pick up infections that would nevertheless clear on their own.
If a woman gets a positive result for an HPV test and a negative result for a pap smear, then the possibility of developing cancer goes down significantly. With this, they can wait for another five years before getting screened again.